Spotlight on Perryland Farm in Perry, Florida
Billy LaValle of Perryland Farm is recognized for his outstanding performance in chicken quality, feed conversion, sustainable farming practices and his good character.
"He was nominated because of his excellent performance growing birds," says Wes Abbott, Pilgrim's service tech. “Everything he does around the farm is top-notch, from the chickens he provides to the feed conversion he attains."
LaValle grows 392,700 six-pound broiler chickens annually in three 40x500 foot houses. Each of his 5.5 flocks stays for approximately 7 weeks to achieve optimal growth. Along with chicken farming, LaValle runs cattle and grows hay and five acres of blueberries on his 600 acre farm.
"He is a great person, he's a very kind-hearted man, very polite. Every time I go to his farm, he stresses 'please, go in and look, the more eyes in a chicken house the better.' He's a very soft spoken man and a pleasure to work with," says Abbott about LaValle.
An environmentally and fiscally prudent farmer, Abbott notes that LaValle makes his own diesel fuel by recycling used oil collected from establishments in town.
The Birds and the Bees
When he graduated from Florida State University in 1970, LaValle worked as an accountant and auditor throughout his career. He also kept 1,200 bee colonies on his land, harvesting their honey. Looking for more financial stability, he bought his three chicken houses in 1998 and retired from beekeeping.
"Everything I did was subject to the weather as a beekeeper. If there was a late frost, I didn't make any money. If there was an early cold snap, I didn't make any money," remembers LaValle. "With chickens I supply the heat, cool, light and everything else. The chickens are insulated from weather. It was a way of controlling the environment."
LaValle continues, "I had the land and it was the safest way to make money. I didn't have to grow crop, like soy or corn, and risk the rain. When I got into it, the banks were falling all over themselves trying to help me finance it. There was very little loss in the chicken business in Florida."
LaValle and his wife Connie raised four sons, Eric, Heath, Benjamin and Joe, on the farm. The poultry farm allowed him to monitor the poultry houses from his job in town, with the assistance of high-tech computerized farming equipment. His son, Joe, now helps LaValle on the farm during his off hours. When the children were young Connie stayed on the farm full time; she now works for the county appraiser.
Depression Era Roots
Like many farmers, LaValle inherited his farm from his parents. Unlike most farmers, LaValle's mother, Floy Moses, bought the land as a single woman with her own money during the Great Depression.
"My mother graduated from Auburn University in Alabama. She was a home demonstration county agent for several years. Working for the government, she had a little money in her pocket. Very few people in this county had any money and they were losing farms left and right. She bought this farm for the amount owed in taxes in 1933. She paid a couple of thousand dollars for 800 acres," says LaValle.
Home demonstration agents were government employees sent to rural areas to teach farming and homemaking skills.
Floy hired LaValle's father, Norman, to help her work what was then a dairy farm. He had left Minnesota because there was no work to be found. Floy and Norman married and had two sons, Billy and Jimmy, to whom they left the farm when they passed away. Billy bought out part of Jimmy's farm, and Jimmy's widow, Allie Jean, still lives on 150 acres across the highway. Allie Jean raises pine trees on her land, planting a new crop every 15 to 18 years.
Financial Stability & Freedom
LaValle enjoys farming now more than he did when it was his second job because he has more time to devote to it. His day begins and ends in the chicken houses. In between he plants or harvests his hay and blueberry crop and tends to his cattle.
While LaValle chose chickens for financial stability, he also found the financial freedom he was looking for in chicken farming.
"I was able to put my boys through college and we are fortunate enough to own a little townhouse in Tallahassee, where the boys went to school. The chicken houses have enabled me to provide for my family, and I'm grateful for that," says LaValle.